Every time I write about Todd Bentley, as I did on Monday, there is a huge jump in traffic to this blog. So I feel justified in writing on a subject in which there is a lot of interest. Or is this just tickling my ego? Whichever may be true, here is another post about him, and about Barack Obama. To be more precise, it is about the way we evangelical Christians react to people like these two.
What do these two have in common? It is that they were both at one time doing what good evangelical Christians should do, and now neither of them is doing. Obama responded to an altar call and had what I have called “a clear evangelical conversion experience”. Bentley started with this and went on to become an international evangelist with a major (but controversial) healing ministry. Obama, at least to some extent, rejected evangelical theology and became something of a universalist. Bentley’s rejection was in a different direction, a fall into sin from which he has not yet repented.
As an evangelical I might say that these two have fallen away from the true faith, in very different ways. But can a true Christian do this? Jeremy Pierce seems to deny it, when he writes, in a comment here concerning what I called Obama’s conversion experience, that
Obama seems to me not to have had such an experience, and if he had then I think he would have a very different attitude toward scripture (for one thing, actually believing it and following it when his inclination is to reject it as making God too cruel).
In other words, Jeremy seems to be claiming that Obama’s low view of Scripture and generally liberal theology is proof that he never had been a genuine evangelical Christian. I find this an astonishing claim, in the light of the evidence that many former evangelicals have drifted into liberal theology.
Let’s first detach this claim from the issue of whether such people will ultimately be saved, which I have discussed here before – something which cannot be known in the present, especially as there presumably remains a possibility of them repenting of liberal ideas and fully returning to the evangelical fold.
But what are the implications of Jeremy’s claim? If tomorrow the pastor under whose ministry I was converted, or who baptised me, or from whom I regularly receive communion, turns away from his faith and professes liberal ideas, where does that leave me?
I can’t help wondering if Jeremy would also hold that Bentley’s persistence, for the moment, in sin is proof that he too never had been a genuine evangelical Christian. There are certainly plenty of people around who cite this sin as evidence that his ministry was never genuine and the whole Lakeland outpouring was some kind of fraud. But does such reasoning make sense? I don’t think so.
Let’s remind ourselves that the church rejected Donatism, the sectarian teaching that ministers of the gospel who denied the faith could not be restored, that their repentance could not be accepted. My own Church of England clearly teaches, in Article XXVI, that the ministry of even the most sinful ministers is valid. This article directly contradicts any suggestion that baptism by an apostate or backsliding pastor or exercise of spiritual gifts by a sinning Todd Bentley is invalid. It even more clearly rules out any conclusion that baptism by a pastor who later becomes an apostate or backslider or exercise of spiritual gifts by Todd Bentley before he fell into sin is invalid.
So how should we relate to a Bentley or an Obama? Both apparently started well but then went astray. There are plenty of biblical examples of this, such as: King David, at the time of his adultery; King Solomon; the Galatians as addressed in Galatians 3:1-5; Hymenaeus and Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:19-20. In none of these cases is there any suggestion that these people were not at first genuinely following God’s way. Now I admit that that suggestion is made about the “antichrists” of 1 John 2:18-19; but I hope no one is going to suggest that either Obama or Bentley is the Antichrist! The biblical response to such people is not to condemn them or write them off. It is, as demonstrated by Nathan and by Paul, to call the backslider to repentance, which may involve what Paul calls being “handed over to Satan”.
At least in the case of King David this process actually led to repentance. So this can happen. My pastor told a story of how he was visited by a pastor who had been suspended from ministry for an adulterous relationship, together with his lady friend, also a Christian. They maintained to my pastor that their relationship felt so right that it must be good and holy. He asked them if they prayed together. They, with some embarrassment, said “no”, exposing to themselves that they still felt shame about their relationship. He suggested they should pray together. Shortly afterwards they realised that their relationship was wrong and repented, and the man was eventually restored to ministry.
So this restoration can happen. Let’s continue to pray that it happens with Todd Bentley, and quickly. As for Barack Obama, we can pray that his eyes will be opened to more of the truth of the gospel, and of course, in line with the verses immediately following the ones about Hymenaeus and Alexander, that he will turn out to be a good President who will make it possible for his nation and the world to “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”.